It has been a very long time since my last trip to Seoul. I finally returned to the capital of South Korea, after 15 years.
Seoul has a population of almost 10 million people and is the largest city in South Korea. It has a mix of modern landmarks and traditional buildings, which makes for an interesting walk.
Weather was fine during my stay, a little too warm for my liking, with temperature hovering around 25C in the day and about 17C at night. Air quality was rather poor on some days and I surmised, the cause of my itching nose.
It was convenient to move from point to point on public buses, and carrying a T-money card made paying easy, for transportation. I didn’t enjoy the subway as much because of the long stairs and the complicated network of lines to deal with.
Locals in the service industry spoke more Mandarin and English than I had expected. And so while there was a language barrier, it was not too difficult to get around.
This, really was an eating trip and what struck me the most, is the rise of french modern cuisine infused with Korean ingredients, and helm by local head chefs. Seoul, has 24 Michelin Star restaurants to-date, and my best meal was at the newly minted 2-star Jungsik, deserving of its accolades. I am not a fan of molecular food but Jungsik may have just changed by view.
Restaurants Jungsik, L’amite and Mingles, all located in southern Seoul’s Gangnam District were rated 1-Michelin star, including Dining in Space which is situated in Myeongdong. TocToc was newly ranked in Asia’s Top 50 last year and highly touted to watch by some.
For the record, hotels I stayed in and my activities…
Classic 500 in the Gwangjin-gu/ Konkuk Uni vicinity. A little worn but roomy, clean, comfortable, and it’s near upscale Gangnam. What’s more, the airport bus 6013 goes direct from the airport to the hotel for only 9,000 won (s$12).
The Plaza in Myeongdong, located in the heart of bustling shopping area in Seoul, is grand with a fully equipped gym and is situated next to a huge Lotte dept. store. Service is good, and even better if you are a Marriott member.
5th, Dinner @ Choongman Chicken – a casual eatery across Classic 500. V. spicy and succulent, a whole chicken with self-served free flow pickles and chips as sides for 18,000 won (s$23). I’ll recommend only if you are willing to put up with poor service.
6th, Lunch @ Mingles – 1-Michelin star restaurant, requires advance reservations months ahead. Food is pleasant but nothing spectacular or memorable about it despite its 1-star rating. A seven course lunch set was 79,000 won (s$100) per pax. It made a faux pas of not having enough lobsters even though it was listed as a main course for selection in the set menu.
6th, Shopping @ Garasugil – If you are scouting for hip Korean brands at mid range pricing within the Gangnam area, this is the place. It’s quaint with cool buildings and some coffee joints. I ended up in BeansBin Coffee for waffle ice cream. So good!
6th, Dinner @ Gamsung Daeji – Korean BBQ at Garasugil (behind ABC shoe mart). A relaxing place to share a BBQ meal and beer with friends. Cooking of meats done by service crew. Pork was good. A set for two is roughly about s$50+.
7th, Lunch @ L’amite – 1-star Michelin, and I like this better than Mingles. Food is refreshing, and the duck breast main course was tender and perfectly done. Quiet, nice setting and it’s less pricey than Mingles at 55,000 won (S$70) per pax.
7th, Shopping at Hongdae – If you are looking for really affordable ladies wear, this is the place to go. The average price for an item is about 15,000 won (s$18).
7th, Dinner @ Toc Toc – I rate this 2nd after Jungsik. Toc Toc garnered a fair bit of attention lately because it made it to the ranks of Asia’s Top 50 restaurants for the first time. It is a casual dining place, and I liked, how the Chef prepared the dishes especially my fish and 1++ hanu beef. The only setback in the meal was, his pasta did not turn out too well. Dinner set per pax was 120,000 won (S$150). Btw, all prices quoted in Seoul restaurants includes service charges.
8th, Lunch @ Curry place – no English name, it’s in Myeongdong located by the side lane of many famous fried chicken shops. Offers four spicy levels – level 4 is so spicy some faces will turn crimson. Average price for a meal is around 12,000 won (S$15) per person.
8th, Dinner @ Dining in Space – least of my favorite because the taste of some dishes were off-balanced, but the restaurant has a nice view from the top of its 4-storey glass building, where it overlooks the palace grounds. Dinner set 120,000 won. Corkage 50,000 won.
9th, Coffee @ Tartin Bakery – San Francisco’s famous bakery opens its first overseas outlet in Seoul, Hannam-dong, an upscale residential area with many quaint coffee places. Its croissant is big, costs about s$6, and good enough for 2 persons. Croissant is flaky on the outside and soft inside. I love it!
9th, Dosan Park – A small neighbourhood park in an affluent neighbourhood and near upscale restaurants. I read somewhere that it is a popular spot for filming k-dramas and movies.
9th, Dinner @ Jungsik – my favorite. Food is interesting, delicious and well balanced with that oomph factor. Attentive service crew who communicated well in English. 2-star Michelin, Dinner set 130,000 won (s$163) per person.
10th, Gyeonbokgung Palace – the largest palace in Seoul.
10th, Hanok Village – living quarters for noblemen during the Joseon era. Banners were put up on the walls by current residents discouraging tourists from visiting the area.
10th, Lunch @ Woo Lae Oak – Exceedingly popular Korean restaurant with the locals. Avoid Sundays, the queue is horrendously long. I waited for almost 45mins to get a table. Famous for its North Korean cold noodles and marinated beef. I’m not for the cold noodles but its bbq beef is really good. Service was friendly, good and the ajjumma who served us spoke a smattering of English. Not cheap, bill for two, comprising a bowl of cold noodles, 2 servings of beef, unlimited refill of banchan, was about 96,000 won (s$120).
10th, Sulbing Bingsu – located in Myeongdong shopping street, 2nd floor. So good that I had the signature injeolmi bingsu (7,500 won)and the sesame bingsu (9,500 won) all in a day.
10th, Dinner @ Oppadak fried chicken – oven baked, and it’s my preferred choice compared to Choongman and Chicken 678. Ordered half and half.
11th, Lunch @ Bowl Korean Restaurant – Located in the basement of Lotte dept. store, this pancake is the best I have eaten so far. A meal for two is about s$25-30.
Photo credit: KL